Kayaking for Beginners: Gettng the Mojo Working

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The adventure continues.

Getting the Mojo Working

A white kayak.

It's been a dispiriting couple of weeks.

After the lay-off due to my hand problem and with getting back on the water, I began to realise that I really couldn't say whether there has been any sort of progress overall. Okay, I've been able to get the distance up to a bit over two miles, I can keep my knees away from the side of the cockpit and I've got a bit more confidence on calm water at least, but I still don’t feel as though I’m getting very far with the overall performance. My speed on the water isn’t very quick even when I’m trying hard. A week or so ago joggers and fast walkers were beating me along the length of the towpath. No matter what effort I'm putting into each stroke, and there is a lot of effort going in, full chat is just a little better than a walking pace. Speed isn't improving and I lose form at the slightest hitch. Taking my eyes off the focal point on the horizon to look around or if I lose concentration for a moment or two, then the balance goes.

What is particularly frustrating is that there has been a lot of weed cutting going on and the detritus is left to float down the canal. Very often I pick up a strand or two of the cuttings, which always, without fail, work their way down the paddle and flap about at the end of the shaft, catching me around the back of the head like a wet kipper at every other stroke. And it doesn’t dislodge easily. If however I stop paddling to try to remove it and shift both hands to the same side of the paddle, that really screws the balance and a couple of inadvertent lurches ensue. I try to ignore the stuff and hope that it goes away, but on the last session one particularly tenacious piece doggedly clung on for fifty yards or so before I finally gave in and risked picking it off the end of the paddle, almost bringing about a capsize in the process.

Ducks are another distraction. They all have families now and are very protective of their young. A few weeks ago they would avoid me as I approached, or they'd take off ahead of me. Maybe it's just that they're getting to know me ploughing through the thick of them, but now they head straight towards me making threatening quacks and only turn away at the very last moment. I feel sure that one of them is going to go for my throat before long.

At the beginning of September I was asked to help out back at work where annual holidays and sickness was taking its toll on their available work force. So that was most of that week out and paddling was put on the back burner, which has rather ruined my plan to catch up with the missing sessions.

That did give me an opportunity to think about it all and really it still all comes down to style. But you need to know what your style is to make a valued judgement, good or bad. The trouble is that when you are pushing the (your) envelope, in your mind‘s eye you’re cleaving through the water with good clean strokes that powers the boat further and faster... What you're not seeing is all the bad habits and erratic bits that each deduct a little from the performance.

With this in mind Mrs D's help was enlisted again to bring the video camera and take some pictures while I paddled past. After launching I did a length of the pound up to the first bridge, turned around and came back down trying to get all the things I’ve previously practiced together. It felt as if it was going well and Mrs D duly recorded my passage from almost straight ahead and from the side. As good as it felt to me though, her comments were not particularly complimentary.

Looking through the rather shaky video (she was shaking with laughter at the time) it might just as well have been taken two months earlier. Although the paddling action looked a bit more positive and fluid with the paddle deeper in the water, body rotation and leg action was almost completely absent. Also there is no suggestion of an even cadence or keeping all the fundamentals of the stroke going together at any one time. Poetry in motion it isn't, It's rather more like Mr Preview: 'They're all the right notes, just not necessarily in that order'.

Another thing creating a problem at the moment is entry and exit of the boat. It's never been what you might call 'elegant' but I've managed it most times. DW'ers mostly make it look easy. Some of the younger and more sprightly entrants seem to be able to exit their boat while still on the move in a sort of seamless, forward rolling movement. My exit looks more like a wallowing walrus. Like everything else there's a technique that has to be mastered when you're trying to raise a sitting body on an unstable platform from water level, to an 18 inches high bank, above and to one side. On the first occasion when getting into the boat I hadn't placed my feet 'just right' and it gradually edged way from the bank leaving me spread-eagled between bank and boat. Only a superhuman jackknifing effort prevented me from falling in between the two. Even so the boat was canted over to such an angle that it started to ship water over the side of the cockpit.

But last week was the nadir of boat entry and exiting. This time while exiting after the session, I somehow managed to get the hand that was propping me on the bank trapped under my arse by sitting on it. Trying to take my weight off my hand made the boat skitter out to one side leaving me suspended again, one foot in the boat, one in the water while scrabbling at the bank. At least two young boys who were setting up their fishing gear nearby offered to hold the boat for me, which I declined while rolling around onto the towpath.

I just don’t have the Mojo. I can occasionally see it tantalisingly in the periphery of my vision. It seems to be there for the grasping but just when I reach out. . . it disappears again.

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